‘This is Where You Can Become a Star in Just a Year’

PHOTO by Riders Lodge / Facebook
The founder of Russia's first hostel for snowboarders talks about his unusual project

Located 1170 metres above the sea level at the Rosa Khutor resort in the Mountain Olympic Village, Sochi, the Riders Lodge Hostel opened its doors in Dec. 2014 and immediately attracted the attention of snowboarders from all across Russia. Yuri Kolobov, founder of the Riders Lodge, told Lenta.ru about his project, his team, motivation and ideals as well as being brave enough to turn his dreams into a business.

A themed hostel for a specific target group is an extremely interesting format. How did you come up with the idea to open the first hostel for riders?

Kolobov: Our project at Rosa Khutor started long before the Riders Lodge. Initially, we were only thinking about a slope and a snowpark. We discussed a few different interesting ideas: my friend Chris "Gunny" Gunnarson, President of Snow Park Technologies, became obsessed with the idea of building a training ground for Shaun White (the American snowboarder, two-time Olympic gold medalist in the halfpipe event — Lenta.ru). But in the end nothing came of it.

After carefully evaluating the terrain of Rosa Khutor, we decided to build the first stash park in Russia. The Stash is a snowpark where all the jumps, pyramids and jibs are made of logs and integrated into the natural landscape. The park offers routes for different skill levels, from beginner to professional. We were very lucky to have the architect Joe Steinfelds as part of our team for this challenging project. Joe had already created a similar park in the US; this experience was truly invaluable as the very concept of stash parks is completely new to Russia. The stash park at Rosa Khutor took us two years to build and became one of only seven parks of this type in the world.

Some time later, the management of Rosa Khutor offered us the chance to set up a rental shop at the yet to open resort. The first year went extremely well. The resort management were happy to work with us, and after the Olympics they invited us to open our own ski school.

Sochi
Krasnaya Polyana resort, Sochi

This was the point at which I started thinking about setting up a hostel. We wanted to create an all-in-one project: a mountain with snow parks which we built ourselves; a rental offering everything from simple cruising snowboards and skis to elite Burton gear; and a ski school. We wanted to have this whole world under one roof. The idea of a home for riders was firmly lodged in my mind.

Is there a similar hotel anywhere in the world?

There are only a few places with concepts like this. When we were doing our market analysis, we discovered a new concept, created by Generator Hostels, known as poshtels. A normal poshtel has just one or two relatively “posh” rooms; the rest of the hostel is made up of standard double rooms or dorms with four to six beds.

The bedrooms are quite basic; the heart of a poshtel is the communal area, where the guests can mix with one another. This area features a cinema, a lobby bar, cafés, different recreational facilities and reception zones, so that the guests can relax and have a good time together in this public space rather than sit, stuck in their individual rooms.

This is the concept we used for RL. The name and the very idea of a hostel for riders were inspired by the Riders Palace in Laax (a ski resort in Switzerland), which for me is the gold standard, as both a hotel and a resort.

Riders lodge

Does this model work?

It does. We started making a profit one year after opening. This is very important in a seasonal business: you can become a star one year, but you can lose it all just as quickly. Last summer we sold 56% of our potential beds.

Our concept paid off, it's more than just unusual, cool or hip. Our team has been able to transform this concept into a business. And this is our greatest achievement. Anyone can create a sensational project if money is not an issue. It’s far more challenging to make a success out of your own investment.

Our project has made a long journey, trading in its reputation of a wayward teenager for the image of a successful business. We have learned to run a hotel in an efficient way, to provide comfort for our guests and to be attentive to detail. When you draw a picture, you first sketch a rough outline, then add minute details and erase the bad pencil strokes. The project has reached maturity: the first season was our trial period, and now we are seeing our plans through. There is always something happening at the Riders Lodge: parties, movie premieres, sports and educational camps. One recent event you hosted was Verba, an educational initiative for aspiring new media professionals. Why do you need all this?

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Krasnaya Polyana has always been a great and incredibly beautiful place, but it used to have no infrastructure. It was a magnet for dreamers and slackers (in the positive sense of the word), who had no intention to create anything, just to consume without spoiling the beautiful environment. After the Olympics, infrastructure appeared, and Krasnaya Polyana started to attract creative people who want to change the place for the better. With every season, their numbers continue to grow. The resort makes great efforts to provide high-quality service. The Riders Lodge, like the team of The Old Boys (a pub and guest house near Krasnaya Polyana) or Latif Sattarov (the organiser of the Boogel Woogel festival), create local points of attraction; our goal is to fill the resort with interesting and unusual projects. It's very simple: we try to offer a service which meets, or even better, exceeds, European standards. And all of us are committed to this goal.

How old are your team members?

20-30 years old, very cosmopolitan and eager to develop. We need people who are willing to take risks and learn. Young people are happier to invest their time in a project.

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What motivates you?

Our primary motivation is to create a cool, modern project. The public perception of the Riders Lodge is not just as a place with excellent job prospects, but as something progressive too.

If you were planning to open another hotel today, which concept would you choose?

I would prefer to make an even more affordable hotel. RL is too well-located to be cheap. I would like to bring together free-thinking people and offer them affordable accommodation with a menu of optional services so that the guests could choose which of them to pay for. I realised while working on the RL project that if you manage to bring interesting people into your team, they will create an excellent atmosphere.

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How are you going to develop the project further?

We are planning to have more educational projects, public events and camps. We want to provide tastier and more aesthetically pleasing food. We also want to really focus on detail and help our services reach perfection.

Today people exist in separate worlds, they only socialise via smartphones; what we want is to give them a chance to communicate face to face. It’s cool to connect people. Even rich people want to go to hostels because they miss genuine interaction. The basic idea is to carry on bringing people together. If you go beyond the hostel, how do you think Rosa Khutor should develop?

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The main problem for the resort was that it didn’t have a mountain, but this year Rosa Khutor will provide many new pistes, which will hopefully attract more visitors. I would also like to see more authentic retail: shops where you can buy something really unique.

The second important thing is excellent management at every level. The differences in approach between Russian and European managers are due to experience. We simply had no staff who were knowledgeable about ski resort management. Even a great hotelier wouldn’t be able to turn into a ski hostel manager overnight because an urban hotel is a completely different business structure. But we have already made clear progress. The emergence of iconic spots and places with a history is a very good sign of development.

Author: Lika Davydova